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An Actress of Uncommon Stature

15 Nov

medea_diana_rigg_programme_lo_res

The performance begins without prelude.

Quietly at first, as we await our breakfast, Hallie catches sight of herself in the mirror and begins to chatter, rapidly but softly, with an intense staccato that slowly builds as, with virtuosic restraint, she works her way, rung by rung, up to the emotional highwire where, finally, she releases all in a swooning crescendo, her arm sweeping the sky as she falls away in a blood curdling “Noooooooooooo!”  A brief pause follows, and then she strains against the straps of her booster chair to check her reflection. Pleased with the effect, and the attention she has drawn, she drops back into her seat, spent from the culminating moments of her five-year old Medea.

But wait! Gathering her energies, she takes a breath and begins again. Initially terse, she launches into a finely wrought internal monologue, a soliloquy of intent.   Passionate, yet controlled, my daughter is rapidly developing into an actress of uncommon stature, her brilliance taking us all by surprise. Certainly, genetics has played a role, but she is now far beyond any gifts inherited from Amy and I, and her talent is all her own.  As a result, in some instinctive fashion, she has gone back, far beyond the modern canon, beyond even Shakespeare, to the primal works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Not yet regal of bearing, she has, nonetheless, thrown down the gauntlet, challenging the great classical actresses of our time with her staggering combination of intensity, intimacy, and emotional commitment, all expressed with a banana-smeared face and only the rudiments of language.

For Hallie will speak in only the simplest of sentences.  Stubbornly refusing to use three words when one will do, she has expanded this approach into her own unique and rapidly developing oeuvre through which she proves, with each and every performance, that words are merely an adornment to great acting, a crutch for those who lack her artistic rigor and wide open heart.

Suddenly quiet, something shifts, and Hallie enters a different world. The intensity is still there, but it’s combined with a wry sense of amusement, a fatality which, in one so young, is both disturbing and mesmerizing. Could she possibly be…? Yes! She has moved on to Baby John, the youngest Jet in West Side Story! What am I witnessing here? Is she performing in back to back productions? Or has she interpolated the two plays, creating an extraordinary mash-up through which, with her loudly erratic personal rhythm and no sense of pitch whatsoever, she can deconstruct the American musical in a manner that challenges the very boundaries of theatrical convention?

The food arrives and Hallie settles in, glancing across to the mirror and smiling to herself as she begins to eat her scrambled eggs.  Fully aware of the ground she has broken and the ambitious heights she has yet to scale, she is an innovator to her toes, and I fear for the resistance she will meet. Luckily, though, our daughter is fearless, and cares nothing for the critics. Performing only for herself, she alone knows the perfection she pursues.

The rest of us are just lucky to catch a glimpse.

Hallie zoo

When Time Hesitates

20 May

Some days are holy, some days are rough, but that’s alright…

  –-Patti Scialfa

Standing in the kitchen on a rainy Sunday afternoon, Amy smiles as she catches my glance, and asks, “What?”

“Nothing,” I say, and move on, still shy with her after all these years.

It’s her eyes I’m searching, taking a moment to plumb the depths I dance across from day to day.  Because while two children and nearly twenty years together has fostered the illusion that I know this woman, I know that’s not true.  I’ve  amassed a certain amount of knowledge, certainly.  But I don’t kid myself that it’s any more than the tip of the iceberg.

When I read a truly great novel for the first time, I figure I’m lucky  if I get ten percent of what it has to offer.  I read too quickly, my eyes racing faster than my thoughts.  I get the story, but I miss so much.  Rereading helps, but it is only in slowing down, in forcing myself to savor every moment, every thought, that I begin to fully appreciate what’s before me.  This is even more true of Amy, a creation of far greater complexity than any work of art, whose beauty I will never comprehend and whose mysteries will never be fully revealed.  Blending the outrageously comic with the heartbreakingly tender more effectively, and more honestly, than any piece of literature I have ever encountered, she is a wondrous work in progress, her final pages yet to be written, let alone read.

And that is why I’m standing in the kitchen on a rainy Sunday afternoon, while our daughter takes apart the house and my son yells at the computer, as darkness approaches and baths are delayed and the idea of making dinner grows more daunting by the second.  That is why I’m looking into her eyes, trying get behind her smile, and into the warm depths of the twinkle that comes with it.

“What?” she asks, and I’m almost there.

“Nothing,” I say, and move on.  Still shy with her after all these years.

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Creation

28 Dec

It has been over a year since I’ve posted.   In an effort to begin again I’ve been going over some unposted drafts, and wondering why I held them so close.  Here’s an emotional postcard from February 2010.  Hopefully there’ll be more soon.

It’s a gray day here in the city and my mind is in a whirl.

My bathtub is draining slowly and my emotions are close to the surface.  It has something to do with creation.

My soul is open and grasping but highly selective.  Whoever or whatever is minding the gate knows me very well and is only allowing through those works which pierce my soul with their love, sadness, beauty and pain. 

It began with Roger Deakin’s Waterlog, the memoir of an English writer and naturalist who, inspired by John Cheever’s The Swimmer, one of my favorite short stories, decided to swim his way across his native land, striking a blow in the process for the right of all to access the simple joy of their native seas, lakes, rivers, ponds, moats and fens.  I’m a sucker for old hippies, and while I never met Roger, who recently passed, anybody who spent a good chunk of the seventies living in a van while rebuilding a Suffolk farmhouse, shared the house with whatever animals could find their way in, and frequently swam in his own moat, is close enough for me.  It is the story of a man with a great love for the natural world and the simple but valuable joys it provides.  There is an added poignance, for just as I stumbled across this mentor to my imagination, he passed, leaving me to find my own way.

From there, fighting the blues and craving the couch, I settled in for a re-watching of Slings and Arrows, which just grows richer on the second viewing.  The show itself is a sweet melange of Shakespeare and the lives of the people who perform him.  The second season plays the youthful passion of Romeo and Juliet and its cast against the struggle for love and validation amongst the aging cast of Macbeth.  In the episode where Jerry Appleby, the balding sad sack understudy to Macbeth, goes on at the last minute and succeeds, gloriously, I sat on the couch, feeding my daughter, and wept like a baby. 

 Since then I can’t get enough of the show, and today, having had my renewed sense of sexual vigor foiled by Hallie’s stubborn refusal to take her morning nap (she knew something was afoot), and having too small an amount of time to squeeze in another episode, I dug through my music looking for something that could sustain this odd, bittersweet openness.  Rodney Crowell’s songs about his own turbulent upbringing fed the need. 

And then there’s the wonderful dream I had last night where I introduced my family to my first love, who I haven’t seen in years, and it seemed to bring a peace to the world, and to further extend my family and the love I feel for them. 

In many ways it has been a horrific few months.  My mother and brother were in a car accident, a week later my mother’s sister had a stroke while standing over her stove and caught fire, burning without ever being able to call for help.  And then they found a spot on my mothers lung, two years after her double mastectomy.  Thankfully, we got the news yesterday that she is cancer free. 

I’ve never understood art.  After years of struggling to be an actor I just don’t know what it is.  And I know I need to write.  But what about?  Inspiration floods my body but doesn’t know where to go.

But  the landlady is supposed to come over this afternoon and snake out the bathtub drain.  Hopefully she’ll work her magic on the hidden blockage deep within the elderly plumbing of our little home.  The drain will clear, the water will flow, and, with thanks, and a little less water around my ankles, I will soldier on.